Health Ministry backs allowing indoor gatherings of up to 50 people
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Health Ministry backs allowing indoor gatherings of up to 50 people

Those present would still have to wear masks, keep distance from one another; Edelstein warns of ‘complacency’ as active virus cases further drop, with no new deaths in past day

Israelis have picnics at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square as restaurants, cafes and bars remain closed except for take out and deliveries, May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Israelis have picnics at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Square as restaurants, cafes and bars remain closed except for take out and deliveries, May 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

New Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Thursday backed permitting indoor gatherings of up to 50 people, as the number of active coronavirus cases in Israel continued to drop.

Edelstein instructed the director-general to approve the measure during a meeting with top health officials, according to a ministry statement.

Participants in such gatherings would be required to wear masks and keep a distance of two meters from each other.

The Health Ministry also said it would reduce the space required between employees under which they may work without masks, from 1.5 meters to 1.2.

This picture released by the Health Ministry on May 21, 2020, shows Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (C) meeting with senior ministry officials. (Health Ministry)

Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people were again allowed Sunday, amid the increasing easing of restrictions put in place to stop the spread of the virus as the rate of new infections declines.

The Health Ministry on Thursday evening reported 18 new COVID-19 cases over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections recorded in Israel since the start of the pandemic to 16,683.

There were no new fatalities over the past day, with the death toll remaining at 279.

The number of active cases further dropped to 2,680. Of those, 47 people in serious condition, including 36 who were on ventilators.

A medical team member wearing protective gear takes a swab from a woman to test for the coronavirus at Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on April 30, 2020 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Another 30 Israelis were in moderate condition and the rest had mild symptoms.

The ministry also said 5,969 tests were conducted Wednesday, far below Israel’s testing capabilities.

“The Health Ministry isn’t testing because the people of Israel don’t want to be tested. We have [the daily capacity for] 15,000 tests at the moment. We send people and they are not going to take the test,” Prof. Sigal Sadetsky, head of public health services in the Health Ministry, told the Kan public broadcaster.

‘We can’t become complacent’

In the meeting Thursday, Edelstein and senior ministry officials discussed the need to prepare for a second wave of the virus.

“We’re in a situation of ‘a time to open’ but we can’t become complacent. I again stress that the continued opening of the economy in accordance with the Health Ministry’s outline mainly depends on our adherence to the Health Ministry’s rules,” Edelstein was quoted saying in the statement.

He added: “The coronavirus may become stronger and the economy may need to be closed again.”

Since Israel began lifting restrictions on movement, economic activity and schools over the past month, there has not been a rise in new virus cases, though several cases of positive tests among teachers have raised concerns of a potential fresh outbreak.

People shop at Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda on May 20, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to an Israel Democracy Institute poll published Thursday, more than half of Israelis believe a second wave of infections is only a matter of time.

Among respondents, 54.5 percent believe there is a high chance of a second wave.

However, Israelis are generally less afraid of the virus now, with just 49% of Israeli Jews and 55.5% of Arab Israelis worried about contracting the coronavirus, a significant drop from 76% and 70%, respectively, in March.

As infections slow and the government rolls back restrictions, 39% of respondents said the moves to restore the economy were made too quickly, 30% thought were made at the appropriate pace and 25% felt they were too slow.

Forty-four percent said they trust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s management of the crisis, a decrease from 54-57% in surveys up until mid-April on the same topic.

The survey was conducted by the IDI’s Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research on May 17-18, among 754 respondents contacted by phone and constituting a representative sample of Israel’s adult population. The margin of error was 3.7%.

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